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Prescription Drugs Addiction

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By We Level Up | Editor Yamilla Francese | Clinically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: October 25, 2022

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is the use of prescription medication in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor. It is problematic that use includes everything from taking a friend’s prescription painkiller for your backache to snorting or injecting ground-up pills to get high. Drug abuse may become ongoing and compulsive, despite the negative consequences.

Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction involves people building a dependence on prescription pharmaceutical medications. In many cases, prescription drug misuse occurs due to a voluntary pursuit of the euphoric feeling that some medications provide people.

Drug Misuse Definition

Once addiction sets in, misuse becomes compulsive and difficult to overcome. Additionally, addiction to prescription drugs can cause severe long-term consequences, including physical injury and mental illness while also affecting personal and professional relationships. Fortunately, there is a way for people to remove the addiction from their lives and overcome prescription drug misuse. 

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Prescription Drug Abuse Affects All Ages

Prescription drug abuse can affect all age groups, including teens. The prescription drugs most often abused include opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, and stimulants.

In fact, Prescription drug abuse in older adults is a growing problem, especially when they combine drugs with alcohol. Having multiple health problems and taking multiple drugs can put seniors at risk of misusing drugs or becoming addicted.\

10 Most Abused Prescription Drugs

  1. Alcohol.
  2. Bath Salts (Synthetic Cathinones)
  3. Club Drugs.
  4. Cocaine.
  5. Hallucinogens.
  6. Heroin.
  7. Inhalants.
  8. Marijuana.
  9. MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)
  10. Methamphetamine
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Prescription drug misuse occurs due to a voluntary pursuit of the euphoric feeling that some medications provide people. Find out which are the top 10 most abused prescription drugs in the USA.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

When discussing this sensitive topic, it is important to learn statistics and facts about prescription drug abuse, such as:

Prescription Drug Abuse FAQs

What Are The Common Signs Of Prescription Drug Abuse?

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the specific drug. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are:

-Opioids – Often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. For example, medications containing oxycodone such as Oxycontin, and Percocet, and those containing hydrocodone such as Norco.
-Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives are used to relieve anxiety and/or help with sleep, but their use can result in dependency and a substance use disorder. Like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and hypnotics, such as zolpidem (Ambien), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
-Stimulants – A drug that excites any bodily function, but more specifically those that stimulate the brain and central nervous system. Stimulants induce alertness, elevated mood, wakefulness, increased speech, and motor activity, and decrease appetite such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep disorders.

What Causes Prescription Drug Abuse?

Some users abuse prescription drugs because they want to feel good or get high, to relax or relieve tension, to reduce appetite or increase alertness, to experiment with the mental effects of the substance, to maintain an addiction and prevent withdrawal, to be accepted by peers or to be social, and to try to improve concentration and academic or work performance. These causes imply that all addicts wanted to avoid their fears and problems.

Why Is Prescription Drug Abuse On The Rise?

It is not cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines that are the fastest-growing drugs in the US. Teenagers’ lives are being severely impacted by prescription medicines.

Prescription drug misuse and abuse, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) DrugFacts, occurs when a person misuses a medication (for example, without a prescription). Unfortunately, youth prescription drug usage and abuse is a serious issue. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) on teenagers and young adults show that, in 2014, more than 5,700 youth reported using prescription painkillers for the first time without a doctor’s prescription.

What Is The History Of Prescription Drug Abuse?

America’s history of prescription drug addiction dates back more than a century to the misuse of laudanum, an opium and alcohol cocktail. This was a traditional treatment for diarrhea, coughing, discomfort, anxiety, and insomnia. In the 1800s, physicians all over the nation utilized laudanum. However, it was really addictive.

Additionally, it formed a fascinating division of addiction for those who lived in the 1800s. A woman of Caucasian descent was the typical laudanum user. Alcohol was the drug of addiction for men. Women, on the other hand, were not supposed to go to bars or saloons or be seen drinking so they could go to their doctors for their addictive medications. And many did, whether it was for mental issues, menstrual cramps, pregnancy, or birthing issues.

How To Report Prescription Drug Abuse?

If you are wondering, “how to report someone abusing prescription drugs?”, call your local authorities if you notice any illicit drug activities.

What Are Well-Known Prescription Drug Abuse Facts?

-In 2020, 5.8% (or roughly 16.1 million individuals) of those 12 and older reported abusing any prescription psychotherapy medicine in the previous 12 months. (Source: National Institute On Drug Abuse)
-In 2021, among young individuals In the previous 12 months, 4.4% of students in the 12th grade reported misusing any prescription medication. (Source: National Institute On Drug Abuse)
-In 2020, an estimated 758,000 individuals, or 0.3% of the population, 12 years of age and older, were predicted to have a prescription stimulant use disorder. (Source: 2020 National Survey On Drug Use And Health)

What Are Common Prescription Drugs Abuse Effects?

Prescription medication addiction carries substantial concerns for a person’s health, just like all drug usage. Abuse of prescription drugs is the first step to result in causing nausea, mood swings, a decline in cognitive function, impaired respiratory function, coma, or even death.

What To Do If Someone Is Abusing Prescription Drugs?

There are numerous ways you can report someone who is abusing prescription medications. According to HealthDay, there are about seven million prescription drug abusers in the United States. This figure is far higher than the sum of heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine abusers. Many people consider addiction but don’t want to connect with it. They don’t believe it will ever occur to a loved one. Never would their friends or family put them in that predicament. It isn’t a choice, that’s the thing. An illness, addiction is. For instance, following surgery, a person can be given a prescription for painkillers. They might start to rely on them. Then, as their tolerance grows, they start abusing the drugs that are supposed to be helping them.

Prescription painkillers and ADHD meds are two examples of drugs that are more addictive than others. Although only the individual to whom they are prescribed should take these medications and at the appropriate dosage, that doesn’t always happen. Abusing prescribed medications is typically not someone’s intention. But it does take place.

Do you know someone abusing prescription medications? Do you desire their assistance? There are various methods for doing this. Reporting a loved one could sound terrifying, and you might feel as if you are betraying them, but it might be the best course of action. Most people will deny having an addiction or become hostile if you bring it up to them. Reporting them can be another way you can assist them. Their life might be saved thanks to it.

Abuse Of Prescription Drugs May Cause Which Side Effects?

Prescription medication addiction carries substantial concerns for a person’s health, just like all drug usage. Abuse of prescription drugs is the first step to result in causing nausea, mood swings, a decline in cognitive function, impaired respiratory function, coma, or even death.

Abusing Prescription Drugs Is Legal?

It can be riskier than individuals realize to use prescription medications in a way that isn’t advised by a doctor. It is actually drug misuse. Like using illegal narcotics, it is also illegal.

What Are The Effects Of Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription medication addiction carries substantial concerns for a person’s health, just like all drug usage. Abuse of prescription drugs is the first step to result in causing nausea, mood swings, a decline in cognitive function, impaired respiratory function, coma, or even death.

How Many People Abuse Prescription Drugs?

In 2020, 5.8% (or roughly 16.1 million individuals) of those 12 and older reported abusing any prescription psychotherapy medicine in the previous 12 months.

(Source: National Institute On Drug Abuse)

How To Tell If Someone Is Abusing Prescription Drugs?

Depending on the type of medication, the dosage, the person using it, and whether or not it has been used for a long time, the effects of prescription medications can vary greatly.

According to the general kind of substance, the following are some indications of prescription drug abuse:

-Opioid painkillers: As previously said, one of the largest drug issues the United States is currently dealing with is the overuse of opioids. Constipation, slowing breathing, a feeling of disorientation, lack of coordination, and nausea are a few examples of physical symptoms. Also possible is drowsiness. The more opioids are used, the more likely it is that the person would experience the pain that opioids were designed to relieve. There are withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids that can reveal drug use. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can include uncontrollable jerks, vomiting, diarrhea, discomfort, restlessness, cold flashes, and seizures.
-Sedatives: Sedatives, especially prescription anti-anxiety drugs, can cause physical symptoms such as tiredness, slurred speech, difficulties focusing and remembering, slower breathing, difficulty walking, and dizziness. Both poor judgment and uncontrollable tics or motions could happen.
-Stimulants: Anxiety, jitteriness, or agitation are possible early indications that someone is using stimulants. The use of stimulants like amphetamines can also be indicated by the fact that they tend to lose their appetite, have an elevated body temperature, and have an erratic heartbeat. People who abuse stimulants frequently endure unexplained weight loss and may even have seizures.

How To Plan Intervention Prescription Drug Abuse?

Intervention strategies to stop prescription drug abuse must: (1) strengthen legislation and the enforcement of current laws; (2) enhance medical practice with regard to opioid prescription; (3) inform prescribers about the underappreciated risks and benefits of high-dose opioid therapy; and (4) incorporate secondary and tertiary prevention measures to improve access to substance abuse services and overdose harm reduction programs.

What Are The Legal Consequences Of Abusing Prescription Drugs?

If you are found in possession of prescription medications unlawfully, you may be subject to a number of legal repercussions, such as imprisonment, jail time, a permanent criminal record, and financial fines.

Out Of All Prescription Drugs The Most Often Abused Are:

-Opioids – Often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. For example, medications containing oxycodone such as Oxycontin, and Percocet, and those containing hydrocodone such as Norco.
-Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives are used to relieve anxiety and/or help with sleep, but their use can result in dependency and a substance use disorder. Like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and hypnotics, such as zolpidem (Ambien), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
-Stimulants – A drug that excites any bodily function, but more specifically those that stimulate the brain and central nervous system. Stimulants induce alertness, elevated mood, wakefulness, increased speech, and motor activity, and decrease appetite such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep disorders.

What Are The Signs Someone Is Abusing Prescription Drugs?

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the specific drug.

What Are The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs On Campus Are?

-Opioids – Often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. For example, medications containing oxycodone such as Oxycontin, and Percocet, and those containing hydrocodone such as Norco.
-Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives are used to relieve anxiety and/or help with sleep, but their use can result in dependency and a substance use disorder. Like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and hypnotics, such as zolpidem (Ambien), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
-Stimulants – A drug that excites any bodily function, but more specifically those that stimulate the brain and central nervous system. Stimulants induce alertness, elevated mood, wakefulness, increased speech, and motor activity, and decrease appetite such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep disorders.

Which Three Classes Of Prescription Drugs Are Most Commonly Abused?

-Opioids – Often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. For example, medications containing oxycodone such as Oxycontin, and Percocet, and those containing hydrocodone such as Norco.
-Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives are used to relieve anxiety and/or help with sleep, but their use can result in dependency and a substance use disorder. Like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and hypnotics, such as zolpidem (Ambien), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
-Stimulants – A drug that excites any bodily function, but more specifically those that stimulate the brain and central nervous system. Stimulants induce alertness, elevated mood, wakefulness, increased speech, and motor activity, and decrease appetite such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep disorders.

Why Is Prescription Drug Abuse An Issue Today?

It is not cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines that are the fastest-growing drugs in the US. Teenagers’ lives are being severely impacted by prescription medicines.

Prescription drug misuse and abuse, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) DrugFacts, occurs when a person misuses a medication (for example, without a prescription). Unfortunately, youth prescription drug usage and abuse is a serious issue. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) on teenagers and young adults show that, in 2014, more than 5,700 youth reported using prescription painkillers for the first time without a doctor’s prescription.

What Are The Symptoms Of Prescription Drug Abuse?

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the specific drug. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are:

  • Opioids – Often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. For example, medications containing oxycodone such as Oxycontin, and Percocet, and those containing hydrocodone such as Norco.
  • Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives – Are used to relieve anxiety and or help with sleep, but their use can result in dependency and a substance use disorder. Like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and hypnotics, such as zolpidem (Ambien), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
  • Stimulants – A drug that excites any bodily function, but more specifically those that stimulate the brain and central nervous system. Stimuli induce alertness, elevated mood, wakefulness, increased speech, and motor activity, and decrease appetite such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep disorders.

Difference Between Stimulatant Vs. Opioid Prescription Drug Abuse

Opioids

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Feelings of Euphoria
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Poor coordination
  • The increased dose required for pain relief
  • Worsening or increased sensitivity to pain with higher doses (hyperalgesia)

Stimulants

  • Increased alertness
  • Feeling high
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia

Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives may cause:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteady walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with memory
  • Slowed breathing

Other drug abuse signs include:

  • Stealing, forging, or selling prescriptions
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Excessive mood swings or hostility
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Poor decision-making
  • Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up or sedated
  • Requesting early refills or continually “losing” prescriptions, so more prescriptions must be written
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor

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When To See A Doctor

If you suspect that your usage of prescription medications may be problematic, consult your doctor. Although it may make you uncomfortable to discuss it, keep in mind that medical professionals are qualified to assist you rather than pass judgment. It is simpler to address the issue early before it develops into an addiction and causes more serious issues.

Causes Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Some users abuse prescription drugs because they want to feel good or get high, to relax or relieve tension, to reduce appetite or increase alertness, to experiment with the mental effects of the substance, to maintain an addiction and prevent withdrawal, to be accepted by peers or to be social, and to try to improve concentration and academic or work performance. These causes imply that all addicts wanted to avoid their fears and problems.

Risk Factors Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Some people fear that they may become addicted to medications prescribed for medical conditions, such as painkillers prescribed after surgery. But you can reduce your risk by carefully following your doctor’s instructions on how to take your medication. Prescription drug abuse can happen at any age but commonly begins in teens or young adults.

Research shows that some things about you might make you more likely to abuse prescription drugs. These risk factors include:

  • Past or present addictions to other substances, including alcohol and tobacco
  • Family history of substance abuse problems
  • Certain pre-existing psychiatric conditions
  • Exposure to peer pressure or a social environment where there’s drug use
  • Easier access to prescription drugs, such as having prescription medications in the home medicine cabinet
  • Knowledge about prescription drugs and how they might hurt you

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Older Adults And Prescription Drug Abuse

An increasing number of older persons are abusing prescription medications, particularly when they also consume alcohol. People who take many drugs and have multiple health issues are more likely to misuse drugs or develop drug addiction.

Complications

Abusing prescription drugs can cause a number of problems. It can be especially dangerous and even lead to death when taken in high doses. Drug misuse can occur when prescription drugs are combined with other drugs or certain over-the-counter medications, or when taken with alcohol or illegal or recreational drugs. Abruptly stopping the medication may cause withdrawal symptoms that can include nervous system hyperactivity and seizures. 

Medical Consequences

Here are examples of serious consequences of prescription drug abuse:

  • Stimulants – can cause dangerously high body temperature and hallucinations.
  • Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives – can cause memory problems and have a significant risk of death. 
  • Opioids – can cause low blood pressure, a slowed breathing rate and the potential for breathing to stop or a coma. 

Physical Dependence and Addiction

Because commonly abused prescription drugs activate the brain’s reward center, it’s possible to develop physical dependence and addiction.

  • Physical dependence – is also called tolerance. It’s the body’s response to long-term use.
  • Addiction – is compulsively seeking a drug and continuing to use it even when that drug causes significant problems in their lives.

Other Consequences

Other potential consequences include:

  • Risky behaviors because of poor judgment
  • Using illegal or recreational drugs
  • Being involved in crime
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Decreased academic or work performance
  • Troubled relationships

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Prevention For Abuse Of Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug abuse may occur in people who need painkillers, sedatives, or stimulants to treat a medical condition. The FDA offers these guidelines for safe prescription medication use:

  • Keep controlled substances
  • Follow the dosage recommendations when taking your medications
  • Follow directions carefully
  • Never stop taking medication on your own
  • Always correctly dispose of your unused medications
  • Pay close attention to the number of pills you were prescribed
  • Don’t order prescriptions online unless they’re from a trustworthy pharmacy
  • Talk honestly with your doctor about any personal or family history of substance abuse
  • Don’t crush or break pills, especially if they’re time-released
  • Make sure you know how a drug will affect your driving and other daily tasks

Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse In Teens

Inappropriate use of prescription medicines is widespread among young individuals. To assist stop your teen from misusing prescription drugs, take the following actions.

  • Describe the risks. In particular, if the pills were prescribed to someone else or if your child is currently taking other prescription medications, emphasize to your teen that just because a doctor recommended a substance doesn’t mean it’s safe.
  • Make rules. Inform your teen that using prescription medications for other people or sharing medications with others is not acceptable. Stress the value of adhering to the recommended dosage and consulting your doctor before making any adjustments.
  • Discuss the perils of alcohol consumption. Combining alcohol and medications can make accidental overdoses more likely.
  • Keep your prescription medications secure. Count the number of pills you have and store them in a secured medicine cabinet.
  • Verify that your teenager is not placing an internet drug order. Some websites sell harmful, maybe non-prescription, counterfeit medications.
  • Dispose of medications properly. Don’t keep unneeded or outdated medications around. For disposal instructions, refer to the label or patient information sheet. You can also get disposal guidance from your pharmacist.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

Treatment for opioid addiction includes medications that can help people get control without a high chance of addiction. Typically, a key part of treatment is counseling or psychotherapy. It may also require withdrawal detoxification, addiction medicine, and recovery support.

We Level Up is an accredited Treatment Center that is licensed to help treat prescription drug abuse for you or your loved one.
We Level Up is an accredited Treatment Center that is licensed to help treat prescription drug abuse for you or your loved one. Find out more about medical detox.

Prescription Drug Abuse Therapy

  • Counseling – It is a process where an individual, couple, or family meets with a trained professional counselor to talk about issues and problems that they are facing in their lives.
  • Withdrawal – Withdrawal can be dangerous and should be done under a doctor’s care. Depending on the prescription drug and usage, detoxification may be needed as part of treatment and may include:

Prescription Drug Abuse Withdrawal Process

First. Opioid withdrawal.

Second. Withdrawal from anti-anxiety medications and sedatives.

Third. Stimulant withdrawal.

At the We Level Up Treatment Center, we provide world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. We all work as an integrated team at our Prescription Drug Abuse treatment centers for the use of prescription medication and successful recovery. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists and learn more about options for rehab for prescription drug abuse. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions about treatment for prescription drug abuse.

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Sources

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Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology: “Prescription Stimulant Medication Abuse: Where Are We and Where Do We Go From Here?”

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Disposal of unused medicines: What you should know. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/safe-disposal-medicines/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know. Accessed April 13, 2021.

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